Donation Culture!

 

donate1Since time immemorial people have been donating for various causes. Some people have been wealthyprosperous to average persons like you and me. But many people who themselves are monetarily challenged have also been donating. Causes for each individual and organisations have been different. I would prefer to use a phrase sharing of resources for the monetarily challenged people.  

I had written a blog previously about Donation Culture.

https://panvalkarpramod.wordpress.com/2018/01/12/let-us-all-become-bill-gates/

The largest of the donor known to us has been Bill Gates. Through his foundation Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation he has donated the US $ 60/ billion or maybe even more. When asked by someone about his still being in the top five wealthiest people in the world, he replied, “Maybe I am not donating enough money!” Warren Buffet and many superrich people have been donating funds for the causes they believe. Recently, the Titanic actor Leonardo Decaprio donated the US $ 30/ million to help douse the fires that have erupted in the Amazon River jungle.  

The list will go on and on, but I have one grouse. Why do people advertise what they donate? I have nothing against Bill Gates because along with donations, he personally and with his team ensures that funds are utilised efficiently. He is giving his management expertise along with the money. The team working on these projects get paid by Gate’s foundation. In case you are not aware, he donates money mainly for the eradication of diseases like AIDS, Malaria; he does this by sending expert doctors and scientists to these areas. He also negotiates and convinces pharmaceutical companies to keep their profits to reasonable levels for the medicines they buy, and not at the normal extravagant levels. By negotiations, he ensures that the money he donates reaches more people.  

I have been observing over a period the trend of donating money during national calamities like floods and earthquake people enthusiastically give by way of money and material. But do we have to advertise this by posing for photographs, while handing over the donations? Every day, I see in the newspapers individuals or group of people being photographed while handing over the money to authorities. Is there any need to publicise this?  

There are reasons to donate. You donate to charity, donate for a specific causeGiving culture is very important in our life, it boosts our morale, and it makes one feel good. It introduces children to donation culture, the importance of donation. Nobody wants to live on charity, but the circumstance in some cases force people to live on charity. Some are born in deprived family, where parents may be uneducated, sick or may have some other cause which leads them to opt to live on charity. Some people simply don’t want to take efforts of doing any work and would rather live on charity. But my judgement tells me that there would be very few people in this world who would prefer to live on charity.  

In India, the donation culture is started and pushed forward by the Marwari community. They are a business community, and there are many moneyed families. They have been donating to hospitals, the food kitchens for needy on round the year basis.  

The Sikh community has a superb method of “giving”. Sikhs perform Kar Seva; it means that people offer physical services in Gurudwaras, like cleaning, sweeping, cooking, and whatever work is available. Such services are provided by the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. You may find a Managing Director of a company and a peon from that company sweeping floors at the Gurudwara at the same time. The basic theory behind this is that in front of Him, everybody is equal. Another system in Gurudwaras is Langar. Food is provided to all those who want to avail of the facility, irrespective of one’s social status. Jaya and I were lucky to have langar food at the Harmandir saheb in Amritsar!  

Birla family has donated crores of rupees to build beautiful Mandirs at various places in India. Unfortunately, these Mandir’s are not called Ram Mandir but Birla Mandir! I can understand a plaque being mounted, or a board hung, giving the names of large donors. But naming the structure, especially a Mandir, in the donors name does not suit my tastes.  

There is another tendency that is cropping up these days. During the calamities, thousands of people donate material, money or services. I am pleased and proud of this gesture. But every day in newspapers, photographs of families, members of organisations handing over the cheques to authorities are displayedI feel that it is incorrect to display one’s good deeds. Are you doing it for publicity? Are you donating to show off? Do you want the whole world to know that you have given funds to a cause? I don’t think it is essential. Why can such acts not be done discreetly? For someone Rs 200/ or 2000/ maybe a large sum but to me, it need not be publicised.   

Do the soldiers in the rescue operation publicise their photos, every day? Do the disaster relief team members advertise their deeds? They know that they must take over rescue operations in the time of disasters. In the same vein, it is the responsibility of people to support the way they want to, discreetly. What do you gain by printing your photos, other than a boost to your ego?  

One exciting act I have started noticing in recent times. A group of motorcycle mechanics from the Aurangabad area shut their shop for 15 days and went to the worst flood-affected areas of Sangli. They stayed put in that area for about two weeks and serviced the vehicles which could not even start as these were under floodwater for a long time. They did this work for fifteen days, free of cost! What magnanimity? Don’t forget that the mechanics earn their bread on the day to day work they get in their shops.  

There have other groups who have also offered their services free. Some of these are doctors and nursesI always say that I do not bother about political affinities. But I must praise the volunteers of the RSS who rush to spots the moment they realise the need for support. Let us not forget that these people are like you and me. They are clerks, engineers, accountants, and maybe even vegetable vendors too! But they all come under the umbrella of RSS and take the lion’s share in helping people irrespective of the caste and creed!  

I would like to share two interesting news items. During Kerala floods, the UAE government had offered a massive amount of funds to India. It is because a large number of Keralites work in UAE. But the Indian Government politely declined the aid after thanking the UAE government, saying, “We have enough funds!” 

There is always a grouse that private organisations do not do much during disaster situations. Walmart has proven everybody wrong. When there was severe flooding in New Orleans, after the storm Katrina, for the first few hours, everything was paralysed. Before US government agencies could organise rescue operations, Walmart gave instructions to their New Orleans office to use whatever was needed from their stock in New Orleans, including small boats, to be allowed to be used for rescue. For the first two full days, only Walmart team were doing the rescue operations!  

Disasters will come and go, people will help, but I hope day by day the tendency to self-publicise will come down.  

 

 

 

 

 

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Deep Discounts or Deep Distress?

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I am as usual caught in a conundrum when I read some stories. On the 15th of August National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) launched a logout campaign against the deep discount coupons that are offered by these five aggregators Zomato, EazyDinerNearbuyMagicPin and DineoutSince then, more than 2300 restaurants across the country de-listed themselves from these food apps claiming that “discount structure, terms and conditions, by the food tech companies are unjust and unsustainable.” The president of NRAI said that to stay competitive in the market, some aggregators give discount of buy one and get one free. Others have done the same thing differently; they have straight away offered a 50% discount, which means the same.  

The story does not end here. On particular Gold Card membership, such discounts are allowed on one itemBut our desi brain works interestingly. The people go to restaurant A and take starters- 50% discount. They go to another restaurant to take drinks- buy two get two free! Finally, they go to the third restaurant and order the main course- buy one get one free! Using this method, they get the whole meal at 50% discount which kills the business.   

The worst part of the whole thing is that the discounts are being borne by the restaurants and not the aggregators. The association wants these discounts to be removed so that customers get used to not getting high discounts. It is a sort of detox action that is essential, according to the association. It appears that both the sides have understood the problems created by deep discounts and they also know that it will take some time to reach normalcy and come out of the deep discount issue.  

You and I are naturally going to be unhappy with these changes. We have to now look for happy hours or special days to get good discounts. Now, these changes are going to take my outflow back to normal, which I do not like. But we should not forget that such gimmicks never work in the long term.  

I always felt as if I am an uneducated person, though I have run a small business for more than 35 years. Giant organisations like Amazon and Flipkart have been in the deep discount game for quite some time. The difference is that they give deep discounts from their pocket. For years, they offer deep discounts, give Prime memberships and so on. They keep on investing billions of dollars for years. Amazon has never made profits in the last twenty years. But they continue to invest in the business to get more and more customers all the time. Uber CEO has recently made a statement that Uber may never make profits. What is the business model of such companies? Jeff Bozos has become “poor” when he settled his divorce, and his wealth is at lowly US $ 65/ billions. He bought some time back Washington post for an all-cash deal of US $ 250/ million.  

Uneducated me does not understand the principles used in these businesses. Uber charges higher rates when demand is up. But I have seen that as a routine, they charge about 10 to 15 % more than an Auto Riksha in Pune. The price difference between an Auto Riksha and a car can be three lacs of rupees. Many Rikshas give mileage about 1.5 times more than the cars. 

On top of that, Uber takes 30% of the amount we pay to the driver. To me, the driver may break even, Uber’s figures show that they make losses. Other than making vehicles available quickly to us, are they running a charity organisation? Is it not similar to deep discounts offered by Zomato or Amazon?  Or for that matter, Oyo?

Venture capitalists, angel investors, put in their money in such companies. Venture capital is defined as capital invested in a project in which there is a substantial element of risk, typically a new or expanding business. I am sure that those who invest in such companies expect reasonable returns on their capital. By what I have described above, there are no returns, then why are the investments continued? Where is the source for such unlimited funds?  

There is no doubt that Amazon, Uber, Zomato are market disruptors. They have shown the world a new way of doing business, which even 25 years back did not exist. New methods, new ways of doing things make a lot of difference in day to day life. Consider AirbnbThe concept is so good that it is helping people all over the worldIt reduces the cost of travel and uses people’s assets which have been remaining idle.  

Amazon, WalmartJio are gamechanging companies which have made a big difference in our lives. But they are making these changes with their own money or at the cost of competitors. They are disrupting the market and making their competitors think; I am sure the competitors will come up with even newer ideas.  

But this deep discount business with own money or someone else’s money is not sustainable business model. I am not surprised that NRAI has revolted against it. I was talking to someone about these aggregators. It was felt that the aggregators probably sell the data of their customers to make money! When companies like Facebook have done it, what will stop the aggregators from selling data!  

Ultimately, market disruptors come with ideas and business models which were never seen before. But one thing will never changeSuch organisations have to make profits at some stage. Unless, of course, you are an Amazon or an Uber. But don’t forget that Amazon is the market leader in Cloud Computing business; so as a group, they make profitsBecoming Unicorn company (market value exceeding One Billion US $) is fine for publicity; it will help companies get more VC fundingBut if they don’t start making profits, such companies fall in the group of 95 % plus companies, which close down sometimes even without a whimper.  

 

Trust the potent weapon!

Roti, Kapda Aur Makan! Food, Clothing and Shelter are three basic things we need in our life. But there is one more important thing that needs to be added to list, Trust! You will now add WhatsApp, FB and Internet to the list but then these are not basic things. Trust means a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. 

It is equally applicable to personal relations and in business. We put our firm foot forward without any doubt if there is trust in the relationship. Trust is a central part of all human relationships, including romantic partnerships, family life, business operations, politics, and medical practices. For example, if you don’t trust your doctor or psychotherapist, it is much harder to benefit from professional advice. In politics, a government falls when no-trust motion is passed against it.  

Trust is a set of behaviours, such as acting in ways that depend on another or is a belief in the probability that a person will behave in specific ways. Trust is a general mental attitude towards a proposition that someone is dependable and is a feeling of confidence and security that our partner cares.  

Behaviours and verbal expressions are certainly evidence for trust, for example when someone treats you well and says beautiful things to you, but these behaviours are merely evidence for the internal mental state of trust that causes them, not the trust itself. Trusting people may involve trying to guess how they will behave, but people usually trust others without any understanding of probability or any precise predictions about their behaviours. Trust is an abstract feeling like love. But, it is challenging to define trust, but humans do it by gut feeling.  

Trust2

Our first and topmost gut feeling gives us the confidence to accept our mother’s trust. A child blindly believes in whatever the mother does and commands. From babyhood, we trust the mother. It probably has to do with being in her womb for nine months. During that phase, the mother and the child have an interdependent physical system, but still, they are oneThe child does ALL its activity in the safety of the safe atmosphere of the womb! In that period, humans get the training of learning to trust.  

The same trust is what drives our life; we expect and hope to have similar level of trust from others in both personal and business matters. Some people and companies achieve it, but many don’t. The reason could be that maybe we expect too much from organisations. But I will share some stories which suggest how I handled them.  

Years back, I had bought a couple of dongles. I found that they did not perform to my expectations. Hence, I closed my account with them by paying cash to avoid any discrepancy about final payment. I kept on receiving their bills for the next three months. Then a bouncer came to my office for the unpaid bills; I showed him the details and told him that next time he comes, I would call the police. Eight months later, I got an invitation for tea at their regular customer meet where a wellknown lawyer was to explain intricacies about bills. They threatened discretely in the end that they will sue me if I did not turn up. Two years later, I got a phone from a cell phone by a lady who claimed that she was talking from Delhi. After using choicest bad words, she threatened that the company would sue me in Delhi and a lot of my time and money will be wasted etc. When I counter threatened her with police complaint, there were no calls again. The amount involved was Rs 785/I am told that when such follow up is done 80% of the people pay the money out of fear. It is an extortion racket run by these companies. Will I ever trust such companies or their group companies?  

I have been using Honda cars for sometimes. Very rarely, I have had any problem with these cars. Whenever I had any technical or commercial issues, responses from their dealers and the company would be swift and resolved the problem. That has ended in my trusting Honda totally.  

Companies make mistakes in their responses, in their products and customer relationship. But many come out of them quite well, though some of them are still controversial. Take the case of Uber. It has many many issues with customer relationships, but somehow, they overcome them. But the product they have provided is such that it has given us comfort that a taxi will be available when we want it. 

I had hired an Uber taxi sometime back, and the driver turned out to be nasty. The trip never began, and the driver ended up telling me to cancel the trip. I did it, and during cancellation, I wrote about the incident. By the time I came home using the lift, (elevator) I had got a phone call from Uber. Their customer care called me to say sorry and to find out the detailsPhone calls continued for three days, and I got calls from different levels. They informed me of what action they had taken against the driver — Uber way of getting the trust back.  

Trust is rarely absolute but somewhat is restricted to particular casesa wife may trust her husband to pick up the groceries but not to buy a party dress for their daughterSuch decisions are based on previous experiences, knowledge about husbands capabilities and interests in doing something girly!  

Wife’s trust in the husband is not just an estimate of the probability that he will pick up the groceries but also a positive feeling toward husband in this respect. Her gut feeling tells her that he will be able to buy the groceries correctly, but she may not be sure about his buying the right dress. She may feel that he is not reliable enough to do such a chore! Trust is the highest when the previous history, the gut feeling, and persons’ interests match.  

Trust3

Talking of trust in business, Facebook has made a significant blunder by sharing user data with Cambridge Analytica. At the same time, they have shared data with Microsoft, Netflix, Yahoo and Amazon. Google is already capturing many of the activities we do without informing us. Boeing has made a blunder by not sharing the details about the problems in the model 737 Max. They had this information with them for more than two years before two major accidents took placeIt has created a distrust about them. On the commercial side, they have already spent the US $ 5 billion due to this episode. It will be tough for them to gain customer trust again.  

Building trust isn’t glamorous or easy. And at times it involves making complex decisions and difficult trade-offs. Trust is less fragile than we think. Companies can be trusted in some ways but not others and still succeed. Trust can also be rebuilt. 

Trust1

Trust is never objective, but it is subjective. People do not suddenly stop believing in others or companies. When the specific reason for the loss of trust is removed or corrected, trust can be restored. But there is only one relationship between the mother and the child where distrust never gets created, at least from the mother’s side! Conserve your most expensive asset, the Trust!

Trust me to share good blogs with you! emrgency1

 

 

 

 

 

 

996 or else!

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You must be wondering if I am going to start writing blogs in the digital language of 010101. Don’t worry; I am not doing it! But what is this 996? Chinese companies now expect their employees to work from 9 to 9, all six days of the week! For workaholics that sounds like great news. But 996 workaholics, by choice, are rare. People do work longer hours. But can that be the reason enough to work 996, all the time? I don’t think so. No sane person can follow that schedule. If you work 9 to 9, all six days of the week, where do have time for family life, time for personal chores? Time for enjoyment and time for quick picnics. Spending time with spouse and children on the seventh day is out of the question because it is likely, that one will sleep it out on the seventh day! Below is the status of 996 people on Sunday!

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How has this come up? Competition? Dictatorship? Fear of losing the job? Unrealistic goals? Or probably it is a combination of all the factors. Add to this, for international companies, with headquarters in America, and offices in Germany, Israel, India and China. Working with colleagues in different continents can play havoc on the lives of the people. In any organisation, the work is done by different teams in collaboration with each other. Hence there is a need for telephonic meetings regularly. But does it mean that 996 should be the norm? How longer hours will complete the complex jobs shown below, more efficiently?

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Jack Ma, the big boss of the Chinese company Alibaba, says, “The 996 schedule – which means working 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week – is “a huge blessing that many companies and employees do not have the opportunity to have.” He further says that if you don’t work this way when you are young, when are you going to work hard? The question comes to mind what the definition of young is In a group of 100 people if 80 members are young and 20 are not so young, then can you have different timings for young and the not so young? He also feels that such a work regime has allowed Alibaba to become a giant on the world stage.

Why do we work? To win our bread and butter, to learn new things, to go ahead in our careers. How many of us are bothered about the last aspect? The main thing is to achieve, is to steadily get our bread and butter, to pay our bills on time. Educate the children and pass life peacefully. Not everybody is looking to become highly successful in life. Would such people be interested in 996? Would they be able to sustain 996?

I remember about a young engineering graduate who was in the US for his master’s degree, for a couple of years. He joined a company in Pune, where the atmosphere was not 996 but hectic. It was a group of smart engineers working to do some great technical work. Three months later, he went and met his boss and said, “I cannot work with such a smart group of people; probably this is not my taking.” Later he started playing bridge and made his career as a professional bridge player!

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Is 996 feasible in the long term? I don’t think so. There is murmur going on, “family or ICU?” The 996 types of lifestyles are bound to create issues — even our 9 to 6, five days a week lifestyle is against the fundamental requirement of the human body. Before the industrial revolution, our lifestyle was based on nature. Sunrise and Sunset would decide the daily routine. 9 to 6, five days a week lifestyle also involves travel, business dinners and late meetings. So even this lifestyle is hectic. What made Jack Ma think that 996 is sustainable in the long term, I would not know.

Following two paragraphs are taken from a webpage

https://hub.packtpub.com/developers-lives-matter-chinese-developers-protest-over-the-996-work-schedule-on-github/

Working long hours at a company, devoid of any work-life balance, is rife in China’s tech industry. Earlier this week on Tuesday, a Github user with the name “996icu” created a webpage that he shared on GitHub, to protest against the “996” work culture in Chinese tech companies.

The 99icu webpage mentions the Labor Law of the People’s Republic of China, according to which, an employer can ask its employees to work long hours due to needs of production or businesses. But, the work time to be prolonged should not exceed 36 hours a week. Also, as per the Labor Law, employees following the “996” work schedule should be paid 2.275 times of their base salary. However, this is not the case in reality, and Chinese employees following the 996 work rule rarely get paid that much.

These two paragraphs indicate what is happening at the ground level. Can the developers come together and fight the system? I doubt, and it may not be possible even in the US as well as in India. But probably breaking laws in China appears to be blatant. Companies are getting away without being prosecuted by the authorities. The latest information says that 996 will be replaced by 10107! Ten AM to 10 PM seven days a week.

I understand the aspect of profitability in business. But will 996 achieve those numbers? It is evident that people are continuing this out of fear, and also because of no immediate options available. Years back I had met one engineer from Wipro on a flight. He said that his job was quite laid back, but every day he felt like changing his job. After office, he took 2 to 3 ½ hours to reach home. In 996 and 10107 the commute time is not even considered. I read on the website that someone changed residence and moved into not a very decent home, to reduce commute time.

Many companies are not into 996 or 10107, yet. But the number of hours put in plus the commute time makes it terrible. If both husband and wife are working, then the practical solution will be to look for jobs in areas nearby and move residence near the workplace. I know of a couple whose total daily commute time is six hours daily, minimum. One of them has a health issue and is required to exercise daily. But this is not possible due to commute time.

The Chinese colloquial term for a developer is “码农. Its literal English translation is “code peasants” — not the most flattering or respectful way to call software engineers. I call them white-collar workers on the lines of blue-collar workers. Mr Anand Mahindra, Chairman of Mahindra group, had tweeted, “I feel as if I am a businessman from Dinosaur times.” He made this comment after he read a statement by Uber CEO that Uber will never become profitable! I have a run very small business all these years; I am also surprised that Amazon has never made any profits, ever! I am told that these are 996 companies!

Mr Naraynamurthy of Infosys had sent an email to all Infosys employees to make sure that they leave office on time. But his instructions have never been followed in the spirit! I have discussed with people working in larger companies, especially the coders. All of them have said that they can concentrate on their job for not more two hours at a time. If 996 culture is followed how much will be the real productivity is anybody’s guess.

996? 10107? To me, none of these makes sense but what is the option? We had apartheid! We had slavery! The only difference is that compensations are high in the new bondage! Hopefully, there will be an organised movement against these systems, so let us wait and see, fingers crossed!

Latest Orwell!

You may think that Pramod is thinking like George Orwell! This is where the comparison ends. Orwell was a great British thinker whereas I am just a blogger!  But from what I have been reading and what I observe things, are going to get quite complex. Similar to Orwell’s theory of big brother watching, a group of companies are jointly becoming this New Big Brother (NBB). No, they are not coming together or forming a cartel or a caucus, nothing of that sort is happening. But Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook jointly have a large amount of information about us, stored on their servers.   

Orwell

The adjective “Orwellian” connotes an attitude and a policy of control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth and manipulation of the past. In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell described a totalitarian government that controlled thought by controlling language, making certain ideas literally unthinkable. Several words and phrases from Nineteen Eighty-Four have entered the popular language. “Newspeak” is a simplified and confusing language designed to make independent thought impossible. “Doublethink” means holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously. The “Thought Police” are those who suppress all dissenting opinion. “Prolefeed” is homogenised, manufactured superficial literature, film and music used to control and indoctrinate the populace through docility. “Big Brother” is a supreme dictator who watches everyone.   

All the liberals and radicals in India had raised a hue and cry about Aadhar data going to Government. Firstly, we have been sharing a lot of information about us through Income tax department, when we get our PAN card or Election card made. Aadhar additionally took biometric data. Apple, Microsoft has been encouraging biometric recognition using thumbprint and face recognition, we have not even thought for a second whether to share these details with them or not. This is going to create a more secure environment, we were told. We shared this info with no questions asked!  

The New Big Brother (NBB) is very powerful. They not only have our data but also have the wherewithal to use analytical tools and understand everything about us. Let me give a very intimate example, then you will know what I mean. Suppose a lady buys her sanitary requirements for her monthly period on Amazon. Amazon has her age and buying history, so don’t be surprised if she gets a reminder from them, “Hey, you seem to have forgotten to buy your Tampons!” Whether Amazon is using the data for such purpose, I don’t know, yet.   

You have been always taught since childhood not to accept chocolates or biscuits from strangers or never to talk with them. Here you become friends with hundreds of near strangers and share your very intimate details with the whole world. People share their cell number on FB wall! Is it not risky in the cyber world? Fraudsters can cheat you, with your money; some people use this for stalking!  There was a big scandal regarding data sharing and breach by a company called Cambridge Analytica! They were given data of US citizens by Facebook. This data was used to create a campaign against Hillary Clinton in her election campaign against Trump. Later on, it was found out that this company used data about sexual scandals to help a group of politicians in Sri Lanka! It seems the cyber tentacles have spread in all directions!   

How can the NBB be stopped from taking policy decisions which can be against the right to secrecy? The option is for workers, many having entered tech company with idealistic rather than financial motives, to help regulate and restrict their own employers. Many have already begun to express regret over the effectiveness of their innovations, a phenomenon perhaps best exemplified by the Center for Humane Technology, led by the former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris. But the problem in this method is that the employees who are protesting or are whistleblowers are ultimately products of the same system that created the issue in the first place.  

Less clear to most people, however, is the extent to which the companies that make the technology, apps, and browsers that we use are not just tracking but shaping our behaviour. Thanks to the border-breaking nature of these technologies, and particularly the smartphone, the success of the NBB companies has put an unfathomable amount of wealth, power, and direct influence on the consumer in the hands of just a few individuals – individuals who can affect billions of lives with a tweak in the code of their products.  

Self-driving and electric vehicles are expected to come in a big way. These vehicles will use a lot of onboard computers. Any issue reported in the vehicle will be instantaneously captured on servers. Experts will analyze and create a software solution. The correction software patch will be released simultaneously to hundreds of thousands of vehicles. Great, no more visits to the workshop; next time you start the car the patch will be auto-downloaded. Does this bother you? No. But it bothers me. In the same way, the patch is released, a malicious person can send a malicious program and release it in the computers of thousands of cars. You just put imagination glasses on and wonder how damaging this can be!   

NBB may be shaping our behaviour! This is where the fundamental democracy deficit comes from: you have this incredibly concentrated private power with zero transparency or accountability, and then they have this unprecedented wealth of data about their users to work with. We have allowed these private companies to take over a lot of functions that we have historically thought of as public functions or social goods, like letting Google be the world’s library. Microsoft runs our life by controlling the operating systems on computers. Android and IOS control our cell phone operating systems. Android has a remarkable share of 80% plus. Democracy and the very concept of social goods – that tradition is so eroded globally that people are ready to let these private companies assume control.   

Democratic governments can be changed through elections but how can you change ways NBB works, with lack of transparency? But at the same time for NBB, everything is not a walk in the park. They are multinationals, incidentally all having headquarters in the USA. But they are answerable to all governments in the world.  Zuckerberg faced the music in the US after Cambridge Analytica fiasco. He was called by the British Government but somehow managed to skip the “invite”! Sundar Pichai is being grilled by US Government about suppressing conservative views on Google search engine. European Union has been really pushing Google about their search engine monopoly. In China Google had to withdraw in 2010 because of censorship and other issues, thereby losing big business. The Indian government is pressurizing Microsoft/Amazon that cloud servers for Government data must be on Indian soil! They will have to relent, looking at the size of business that India operations can generate. Indian Government has been after WhatsApp and Apple about certain issues.  

NBB is forced to use freedom available to multinationals with care and responsibility because they are being forced to become transparent in their dealings by combined efforts of whistleblowers and governments. These checks and balances will fall in place over a period of time.   

Orwell’s theory of Totalitarianism gets challenged, every time we see somebody trying to control freedom. Indira Gandhi was forced to cancel emergency, Russian communism collapsed in the late 80’s/ early ’90s of the last century. Berlin Wall fell in 1989. How China and NBB fight with each other is a test case for the world. Both are trying to keep each other’s monopoly in check. Its early days of this battle but as computers become more and more powerful, as software becomes all compassing there can be spectacular battles. But as an optimist, I am sure the good will win in the end! By the way, I don’t believe in Orwellian thoughts!

GoodALwaysWins

  

  

  

  

  

   

The world with No Boundaries!

This is a beautiful song from Hindi movie Refugee (Year 2000) beautifully sung by Sonu Nigam and Alka Yagnik.   

youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nvTzT5hhD0&w=521&h=391

The lyrics are just superb. Birds, rivers and the breeze can never be stopped by any borders between the two nations. Borders are for us, humans! But my friend, give a thought, what you and me have achieved by being humans!  

Similarly, our life has gone under a major change; it has happened discretely over the last 10 to 15 years. Our world has become Cyberabad! Now “the world is a village” term fits aptly to our universe. In the late ’90s of the last century, the internet came into the public domain. Before this, it was being used by the scientific community since the early ’70s.  

But in the initial period, it was a special space, independent of our normal life. In those days, we went to our computers and entered the world of mystery. But the real revolution started with the advent of Smart Phones. A smartphone is a device which makes phones, sends a text message; but it is a computer. The first PC that I bought at home, in 1989 had 20 MB hard disc (Yes, MB!) and 640 kb RAM. My current smartphone has 128 GB storage and 6 GB RAM.   

With the smartphone, our life started changing and cyberspace started becoming our appendage! People must have their device with them all the time; they may go to the washroom, they may be taking a bath, they may be in bed with the wife but the phone will be there like a सवत or co-wife! It is applicable to both sexes!  

Consider an example of a piece of paper and a pen, which helps us remember things, a duty otherwise performed by the brain. The shopping list becomes part of our memory, this list helps us in not taxing our brain.  

On the same lines idea that our self is expanding through our phones is plausible, and that’s because our phones, and our digital devices generally – our smartwatches, our iPads – all these things have become a really intimate part of how we go about our daily lives. Intimate in the sense in which they’re not only on our body, but we sleep with them, we wake up with them, and the air we breathe is filled, in both a literal and figurative sense, with the trails of ones and zeros that these devices leave behind.”  

One of the essential differences between a smartphone and a piece of paper is that our relationship with our phones is reciprocal; we not only put information into the device, we also receive information from it, and, in that sense, it shapes our lives far more actively than would a shopping list. The shopping list isn’t suggesting to us, based on algorithmic responses to our past and current shopping behaviour, what we should buy; the phone can suggest.  

Everything has two sides good and bad! Our life has changed very much due to the internet. There is no point in comparing current life with pre-internet days. Life Before Internet (LBI) and Life After Internet (LAI) are two different species. Many of the day to day activities, like banking, purchasing, communication, photos have changed completely. Some things which were almost impossible during LBI are now possible after LAI! Camera has become democratic as it is available to almost everyone. Locating old friends, communicating with people living in different places, countries is just a click away. With the internet being available on flights, that dark connection less tunnel is slowly becoming history. You are now connected 24/7/365!   

But LAI has its downside too! We forget that we are supposed to rest, we are supposed to sleep soundly every night. If you get up to go to the washroom at night, you go with your cell phone. During that window of wakefulness, you see the WhatsApp messages, Email and Instagram! Whatever notification you have received from any App, you access it! As if not seeing these will cause a tsunami in your life! This many time results in insufficient sleep!  

Since childhood, we have been taught basic rules. LAI is full of breaking rules, making foul in the language of my granddaughter. She is being taught the importance of remaining away from “screens” as much as possible. When eating food, no screen, got nothing to do, no screen; screen time is limited, and  has to be earned. But do we adults follow the same rules? If we manage to come to the dining table together, everybody is looking at his/her screen. We make these fouls without fail. We have hundreds of “friends” but we don’t know most of the people in our condo, including our neighbours!

PDA (Public Display of Affection) is a new phenomenon. It has become fashionable to display how much you love your spouse! This includes photos kissing each other! Honestly who else cares about your affections? Why these things are shared publicly when that person is next to you, probably with you in the bed!   

You have been always taught since childhood not to accept chocolates or biscuits from strangers or never to talk with them. Here you become friends with hundreds of them whom you may have just met, and share your very intimate details with the whole world. People share their cell number on FB wall! Is it not risky in the cyber world? Fraudsters can cheat you, with your money; some people use this information for stalking! We raised a hue and cry when the government collected our data in the form of the Aadhar card. Most of the same data is shared by us easily with big fives of this world, including biometrics. Of course, I am talking of Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon. They not only have our data but also have the wherewithal to use analytical tools and understand everything about us.

I am techno-savvy and have used social media regularly for years. I have reached a conclusion that I need to do social media detox, in fact, everybody needs to do that. Social Media has some fantastic usages, by all means, use them. I use it these days mainly to make my blogs available to as many people as possible. Some people are surprised that I am on the detox but SMS is also equally good if you want to exchange messages, using WA is too addictive!   

Going back the song mentioned above, it’s great to have borderless life but to me, there are more pitfalls than advantages. The life after LAI is as addictive as cocaine or maybe worse. To get drugs, you need an unlimited supply of money but for cyber addiction you only need the latest drug that has come on Indian cyberspace called “Jio” and let me assure you it is inexpensive. To detox is like joining AA (Alcoholic Anonymous), discipline yourself along with your child and but is tough. To not share very personal intimate personal thing is as tough as giving up smoking. Use this borderless space like birds take the flights at random (भरारी), rivers simply don’t bother about borders and meander, like the breeze which cannot be prevented by a thousand feet tall wall to cross the border! But don’t forget that birds can get caught in the crossfire generated by cyber wars and cyber thieves!   

  

  

  

  

  

 

What is really intelligent? Intelligence or Artificial Intelligence!

In the last ten years, terms like AI, AR, VR et al are coming in news and in discussions. AI is artificial intelligence whereas AR is augmented reality and VR is virtual reality.

Augmented Reality is an interactive experience of a real-world environment whereby the objects that reside in the real-world are “augmented” by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory, and olfactory.  Virtual reality completely replaces the user’s real-world environment with a simulated one.

Virtual Reality is the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with, in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.

Artificial Intelligence is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. I will be writing today only about AI, in the language that I can understand.

Enough of tech things, hopefully, these definitions have indicated what these things really are. Coming back to the title, an obvious conclusion will be Intelligence is more intelligent than Artificial Intelligence. The answer is both yes and no! Yes, is because after all the creator of artificial intelligence is a human. When we talk of intelligence it is about human intelligence! QED! No, because Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence are two different animals and supposed to handle different things. Hence making this comparison may not be the right thing. In human life, decisions are not taken as 1 & 0 every time. AI activity is about a decision-making activity, always, as 1 & 0!

Consider the BOTS. BOTS are Web Robots. When we go into a Chat mode with a site like Amazon, chats are handled by BOTS, these days. How do the BOTS work? During chat customers usually, ask a certain set of questions. Depending on the standard questions asked BOTS are trained to give replies. Generally, it will say, “How may I help you?” Depending on the what the customer says, about a certain order or delivery issue or a quality issue, BOTS system (yes, it is a system though initially it is trained to say I am Vijay or some such name!)  in Nanoseconds, will run through its database and type an appropriate reply. Maybe in 70 to 80 % of cases, BOT can find the answer. But in certain situations, it cannot find a reply. In this case, it is trained to say, “let me ask my seniors, could you hold on, please?” Then a human supervisor, who handles about 20 BOTS, takes over and resolves the issue. This is like self-checkout counters in foreign countries where there is one supervisor to support ten machines used by us!

What really is AI? Even the most sophisticated AI technology is, at its core, no different from other computer software: bits of data running through circuits at super-fast rates. Where AI falls short is thinking in the abstract, applying common sense, or transferring knowledge from one area to another. For instance, Zomato might be very good at reserving restaurant tables, a narrow and a very specific task. There are many proven instances in which AI models fail in spectacular and illogical ways as soon as they’re presented with an example that falls outside of their problem domain or is different from the data they’ve been trained on. The broader the domain, the more data the AI needs to be able to master it, and there will always be boundary line cases, scenarios that haven’t been covered by the training data and will cause the AI to fail.

Contrary to computers, humans are terrible at storing and processing information, comparatively. For instance, you must listen to a song several times before you can memorize it. But for a computer, memorizing a song is as simple as pressing “Save” in an application or copying the file into its hard drive. Likewise, un memorizing is hard for humans. Try as you might, you can’t forget bad memories. For a computer, it’s as easy as deleting a file.

When it comes to processing data, humans are obviously inferior to AI.  Humans might be able to perform the same tasks as computers. However, in the time that it takes for a human to identify and label an image, an AI algorithm can classify one million images. However, humans can make abstract decisions based on instinct, common sense and scarce information. A human child learns to handle objects at a very young age. For an AI algorithm, it takes hundreds of years of training to perform the same task.

There are robots in Japan to take care of senior citizens. They handle routine tasks. But if it is suddenly asked which was that movie you had seen in 1960, it will not know. But if you ask this question to a human who is your friend from childhood, he will suggest to you the names of five different movies from that period. This is the difference between Human Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence. The robot, in this case, is not expected to give a reply. Artificial intelligence is good at processing data, bad at thinking in abstract whereas Humans are bad at processing data, good at making abstract decisions.

Humans can invent new things, including all the technologies that have ushered in the era of artificial intelligence. AI can only take data, compare it, come up with new combinations and presentations, and predict trends based on previous sequences.

Humans can feel, imagine, dream. They can be selfless or greedy. They can love and hate, they can lie, they forget, they confuse facts. And all of those emotions can change their decisions in rational or irrational ways. They’re imperfect and flawed beings made of flesh, which decays with time. But every single one of them is unique in his or her own way and can create things that no one else can. Robots do not have all these properties. They will keep on doing a repetitive job, every time. They don’t get old but their component may fail. They are emotionless.

While chatting with friends, one of the friends, who is in the same field as Jaya, was pulling Jaya’s leg.  He asked her, “What is the difference between AI and real Intelligence?”  Jaya smiled and told him, “You are artificially intelligent, I am really intelligent”! So, it’s simple, never compare AI and human Intelligence; they are oranges and apples!